Integrated Churches

Spring 2021

“integrated churches”

robbie feagans

“ … First Baptist Atlanta ushers had dragged black college students out of a Sunday morning worship service.”

“Atlanta’s Southern Baptists also lagged behind progressive prompts coming from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). From May 1954 to early 1964, the SBC urged Baptist acceptance of desegregation. However, during this period several of these six Atlanta churches struggled against desegregation of any sort:

Second-Ponce’s September 1954 weighing of the necessity of interviewing possible church members before the church voted; First Atlanta’s decision in 1959 to seat blacks in the auxiliary auditorium in the basement; Capitol Avenue and Kirkwood’s votes in 1960 not to seat blacks, arguing that blacks could attend their own churches; Kirkwood’s 1961 formation of the Kirkwood Churches Committee to prevent black encroachment in its neighborhood; Capitol Avenue’s resolution against the racial flipping of Key Elementary and Smith High in 1962 because that would result in racial transition in the area surrounding the church; Bellwood’s support of the West Side Development Corporation in 1962 to prevent black residential expansion in Grove Park; Capitol Avenue’s second segregationist vote in 1963, with the church stiffening its resolve in response to ‘the increasing militancy of our Negro population.’ At First Atlanta in 1963, ushers carried out black students, believing they were acting in the best interest of the church.”

“In the summer of 1900, a real estate sales firm hired “a colored man” to walk through an exclusively white block of Vernon Avenue, an elegant tree-lined street of one- and two-family houses on Chicago’s south side. Employing a strategy used by white real estate operators and land speculators across the city over the following decades, the man announced he was authorized to sell the brick two-flat at number 3342. Weeks later, the building was subdivided into four apartments, workmen tacked on a rear stairway, and three black families moved in. Wedged between the shores of Lake Michigan and the Black Belt, the increasingly run-down corridor housing more than half of Chicago’s tiny black population, Vernon Avenue faced what the Chicago Inter-Ocean called “an invasion.” As the daily reported, the black tenants sat on the porch each evening, enjoying “the breezes that blow through the streets so carefully nurtured on Vernon Avenue.” Every morning a “black ‘sandwichman’ shuffled out of the basement apartment,” wearing clanking boards proclaiming “Wear Never-Rip Pants.” Within months, the realtors achieved their goal, driving white home owners, terrified of the steady deterioration they saw in Black Belt housing and of falling property values for their own homes, to a state of “nervous prostration,” fears that resulted in the rapid sales of all the houses on the block. The realtors made quick and easy commissions on the sales and the 3300 block of Vernon Avenue became a block of black home owners.”

“James Baldwin, the distinguished writer, made the following remarks around 1962 in an interview on the ‘Dick Cavett Show’ in response to the question, ‘What do you think most white people in this country feel regarding the race question?’

‘I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know that we have a Christian Church which is white and a Christian Church which is black. I know Malcolm X once put it,

‘The most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.’

That says a great deal to me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians and certainly cannot trust the Christian Church. I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me, that doesn’t matter, but I know I’m not in their unions. I don’t know if the real estate lobbyists have anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobbyists keep me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know of the textbooks they give my children to read and of the schools we have to go to. Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my life, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.’” 

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